E3 2019 in Review – An off year

E3 2019 was strange. There were more CGI trailers than there was gameplay and almost every conference with the exception of Nintendo felt overlong and drawn out. That’s not to say that there weren’t any good reveals or surprises, but as a whole, it was all a bit underwhelming, especially considering that there was more gameplay shown during closed door presentations than there were at the actual conferences.

Outside of the Halo Infinite reveal running on their next-generation game engine, Microsoft had a relatively safe conference. There were some surprises with Ninja Theory unveiling their new 4V4 IP Bleeding Edge, Psychonauts 2 is now a Microsoft Exclusive, Phantasy Star Online 2 is finally coming to the West, and Keanu Reeves took stage to reveal his involvement in Cyberpunk 2077. Microsoft doubled down on the Xbox Game Pass as it is now available for PC and upon purchasing the Ultimate Game Pass, you will also have access on both the Xbox One and PC. Microsoft also revealed more details regarding the X-Cloud, allowing consumers to stream Microsoft games on a number of different platforms.

While all of this was appreciated, there were some relatively questionable decisions. Gears 5 is their big exclusive this year and instead of showing any gameplay or new campaign information, we were given a CG trailer for the new Escape mode and more information regarding the return of Horde mode. Battletoads was finally revealed and was immediately thrashed due to its new art style. The reveal for Project Scorpio was interesting, a short video was shown detailing how powerful and responsive the new console will be which is great, but it’s still a year off and sounds like it will be significantly more expensive than the Xbox One X. Overall, Microsoft didn’t have enough wow moments, as the majority of what’s shown will be available on other platforms. It was safe and somewhat underwhelming.

Bethesda’s conference had few highlights as it was seriously one of the cringiest presentations in memory. Let’s quickly get the positives out of the way. New IP’s in Ghostwire Tokyo and Deathloop were announced and both look incredibly intriguing. Ghostwire is being developed by Tango Gameworks with the legendary Shinji Mikami helming the project alongside creative director Ikumi Nakamura, who ended up charming the entire audience with her enthusiastic personality and witty quips. Deathloop is being developed by Arkane Studios, the studio behind Dishonored and Prey so it should shape up to be a title to watch for in the near future. The hotly anticipated Doom Eternal was given 15 minutes to shine and it did not disappoint as it could very well be one of the best games of the year. It releases in November and should be on everyone’s radar as 2016’s Doom was fantastic.

Now to the negative. Todd Howard came out early in the conference and lamented the issues that has plagued Fallout 76 since launch. On the surface this seemed pretty sincere as Fallout 76 released as a buggy mess that looked like it was in a constant early access state. Bethesda then announced that NPC’s and a new PVP mode were coming to Fallout 76. That’s right, NPC’s who should have been in the game all along, will now be in the game in a later update and dialogue tree’s will be arriving with them. The PVP mode is going to be a Battle Royale mode, which I guess there is an audience for, but I don’t know if it will fit in Fallout. The crowd responses really felt manufactured which made it all the more awkward when Bethesda pivoted toward mobile games like the Elder Scrolls Blades and Commander Keen. Those look like they will be littered with microtransactions and clearly everyone is looking forward to their release.

Ubisoft’s conference was just ok. There was a clear emphasis on established franchises such as The Division 2, For Honor, Ghost Recon, Just Dance, and Rainbow Six. Ghost Recon Breakpoint looks to build on the gameplay introduced in Wildlands, while Rainbow Six will have an entry titled Quarantine, a co-op shooter set in the Siege universe. Two new titles were announced in Watch Dogs Legion and Gods and Monsters, with Legion being a show stealer as it might just be one of the most ambitious open-world titles in recent memory. Its core mechanic revolves around being able to recruit and play as any NPC in the game. There is no set protagonist as the combined efforts of everyone will be required to take down the authoritarian government. Gods and Monsters is a new open-world title from the developers of Assassins Creed Odyssey and while no details were shown, screenshots closely resembled Breath of the Wild.

Square Enix is where things got interesting. Final Fantasy VII will return in 2020 and practically everything has been updated and modernized. Strangely, it will only be set in the Midgard area, which wasn’t even a large part of the original game because if memory serves, it only made up less than a third as the game quickly shifts to other open areas. It was confirmed however, that this would still be a full-sized Final Fantasy game and could possibly be longer than your average title in the series. In short, the game looks fantastic and features a unique combat system that is sure to be the topic of debate for those who may favor the original. It felt like the entire conference was dedicated to RPG’s as there were trailers for Final Fantasy XIV Shadowbringers, Crystal Chronicles, Octopath Traveller, Dragon Quest XI, and the much awaited re-release and update of Final Fantasy VIII. To close out their conference, the much anticipated trailer for the Avengers was shown and while it was a bit underwhelming regarding the character models, seriously they look like the discount version, this one is being handled by Crystal Dynamics and could end up being really solid.

Regardless of how you felt about all of the other conferences, Nintendo absolutely crushed its competitors. Not only did they tease titles for next year, Animal Crossing New Horizons being the big one that got delayed, they practically laid out of the roadmap for the rest of 2019. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, The Witcher 3, Astral Chain, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, are all major titles releasing between now and the end of the year. You will not find a more diverse release lineup on any other platform, period. It is insane. As a plus, they also announced the Panzer Dragoon remake, which is just fantastic as this franchise has been dormant for longer than a decade. If you happen to be on the fence about purchasing a Switch, this conference might change your mind. Nintendo was easily the bright spot for E3 because they brought a dearth of content that is sure to please its fans and entice newcomers.

Not every E3 is going to be a hit. Sony and Activision missed the conference because there wasn’t anything new to show and Sony is more than likely going to stick to the State of Play route until next year. It is the end of a major console cycle, so more than likely the focus will be on the next generation. But if you’re Microsoft, shouldn’t you at least tease more of what’s to come? They practically hung their fans out to dry with the lack of quality content this generation, so why not unload a little to get the masses excited? Hopefully, when E3 2020 comes around all major players will be actively involved, otherwise, you might see E3 slowly lose its relevance. The direct streaming method is far more cost-effective and efficient, plus it cuts out all of the awkwardness that comes with live conferences.

Here’s to looking forward to 2020.

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